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Alzheimer’s Disease: Knowledge Helps Families Protect Precious Memories

Alzheimer’s in America

Over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and as many as 16 million are estimated to have the disease by 2050. Each year, approximately one in every three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. The cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to exceed $259 billion in 2017, increasing to $1.1 trillion (in today’s dollars) by mid-century.

These statistics may stun some.  For others, they simply confirm a reality of life for family, friends or loved ones forever changed by this epidemic.  Research indicates that twice as many caregivers of those with dementia experience significant emotional, financial and physical difficulties.  The toll the disease takes in dollars and lives is devastating, but like heart disease, the more we know the earlier we can help those affected

 

Alzheimer’s:  Signs & Symptoms

What is Alzheimer’s?  It is a form of dementia – a degenerative brain disease that impairs memory, thinking and reasoning skills.  Most often affecting individuals, age 65 and older, it is not a just a normal part of aging.  In fact, 5 percent of those American’s currently diagnosed experience early onset of the disease before age 65 with some occurring as early as one’s “30’s”, although that is rare.

The impairments experienced with Alzheimer’s become serious enough to interfere with daily life and can include:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
  4. Confusion with time or place.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
  7. Misplacement of things and loss in the ability to retrace steps.
  8. Decreased or poor judgment.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  10. Changes in mood or personality.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association “Know the Signs”

“Unlike normal, age-related decline memory decline or symptoms caused by condition like a urinary tract infection or depression, these signs or symptoms do not go away with time or treatment,” said Dr. Kirstin Mitchell, Neuropsychologist with Riverside Medical Group Neurology Specialists, “They begin to occur with more frequency and tend to get worse over time.”

In late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals may lose the ability to carry on a conversation or respond to their environment, Dr. Mitchell advised.

 

Early Diagnosis & Next Steps

Right now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, drug treatments and other therapies may help some with both cognitive and behavioral symptoms. Research continues to be done to look for new methods to change the course of the disease and ways to improve the quality of life for those with dementia.

There are many advantages to obtaining an early and accurate diagnosis when cognitive symptoms are first noticed.

“If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, don’t ignore the signs,” said Dr. Mitchell.  “Start by talking to your primary care provider who will perform a physical evaluation to ensure you don’t have other health conditions causing or contributing to your concerns.”

A review of your medical history, medication history and your symptoms will be completed.  If concerns continue to exist, additional laboratory, imaging and cognitive testing may also be ordered and other specialists may be consulted including a geriatrician (a physician specializing in older adults), a neurologist and a psychologist.

Early diagnosis allows the person and family to recognize changes as part of the disease resulting in a higher quality of life for the person affected, less stress for family care givers, and more time to cherish time together today while preparing for the future.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease signs and symptoms as well as the breadth of resources Riverside offers individuals and families for health, wellness, living solutions and support, visit riversidehealthcare.org and Riverside’s Senior Live Communities at riversideseniorlife.com